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Since late November, the words “Penis Man” have appeared in dozens of public locations across Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona. The phenomenon has been met with mixed reviews. In a segment on ABC15 Arizona, an interviewee says “there’s street art, and then there’s just being obnoxious.” Below that video on YouTube, a comment with 103 likes reads: “The man, the myth, the legend … PENIS MAN!”
Penis Man stans now have a place to channel their support, since tagger Dustin Shomer was arrested in late January and has launched a GoFundMe to cover his legal fees. So far, over $3,000 has been raised. Arizona, apparently, is teeming with Freudians looking for a good cause.
Tempe police arrested Shomer after they obtained video surveillance of him at one of the Penis Man tag sites. The Phoenix New Times reported that Shomer admitted to spray painting the name at a number of locations across the city. But he also told the New Times that he was just an imitator: “there are hundreds of copycats with very distinctively different handwriting.” When asked why he decided to follow suit after seeing the Penis Man tags around town, he said he “thought it was a good message.”
Shomer is being charged with 16 felony counts of aggravated criminal damage, eight counts of misdemeanor for criminal damage, and one felony count of criminal trespassing. He described in a Facebook post his home getting stormed by 25 police officers “with SWAT patches.” Later he told the New Times that there were at least five officers, with another five plainclothes officers outside. Whatever the actual number, the apprehension (based on Shomer’s description) seems overly severe: “When they stormed into his home, officers pointed a shotgun at his face and an assault rifle, possibly an AR-15, at his chest,” the New Times reported.
The GoFundMe has almost 200 donors, many of whom are anonymous or donate under pseudonyms like “We Are All Penis Man” or “#FreePenisMan.” Shomer wrote in his request for donations: “I’m broke and have lost my job. I need help with legal fees to defend myself against Tempe PD. I’ve got bad PTSD and had an AR-15 in my face 2 days ago. That shit was real scary.”
If Shomer’s story is true, the real Penis Man is still at large. Or perhaps this is all a metaphor for the loss of personal identity in the face of our penal (no pun intended) process — as his supporters have said, we are all Penis Man. In the words of an impassioned citizen in Netflix’s American Vandal: “this isn’t about dicks, this is about the justice system.“
Art by Athena LaTocha, Wendy Red Star, Marianne Nicolson, Anita Fields, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith & Neal Ambrose-Smith, and more is on view through January 2022.
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